Friday, December 18, 2009

1. So my foot issue of last week blew up into a full-on episode. I had every toe on both feet hot, swollen and painful for three days, which made walking difficult and putting on shoes torture. My husband really stepped up, Bless him, and cleaned the house, took care of the kids and brought me Advil whenever I asked. As always when situations like those occur, I am suddenly struck with gratitude for the life I have, complete with good health, a warm house, a loving husband and the money to see specialists and buy medicine. Of course, the medicine didn't work, but there's a good opportunity to offer it up for the sake of those who aren't so lucky.

2. Still no clear word on what caused the swelling, or how to prevent future flareups, but my podiatrist diagnosed me with Raynauds Syndrome. I find the diagnosis kind of funny, actually, because my whole life I've been having problems with circulation in my hands and feet, leading to things like entire fingers turning white. My husband has been helping me out by holding my cold hands and enduring my icy feet against his legs every night of our entire marriage. So the idea that it's actually a syndrome is just awesomely funny. All this time, we just thought I was a Teeny One (his nickname for me.) Turns out I have a DISEASE! LOL It's not really a disease...

3. The foot issue did prevent me from attending my book club on Sunday, which really bummed me out because we were reading Shanghai Girls and having a pot luck Chinese feast to coincide with our discussion. Then I find out a few days later that they discussed the Catholic views on birth control! Without me! AAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH! If I needed any more signs from God that I'm being called to silence, I think this would do it. Clearly, God was protecting me from being a total attention-whore and alienating the women in my club with my endless pontificating on the Theology of the Body. Or...possibly...teaching me humility by showing me that important discussions of this type can really happen in my absence and no meteors fall from the sky to herald the apocalypse. Note to self: speak up less.

4. Which is ironically supported by videos like this, which (tongue in cheek notwithstanding) clearly show that you can praise God with silence as effectively as words.

5. I have been purposely holding off on Christmas baking until tomorrow. The sooner you start, the more you eat, right? So I've dedicated the whole day to a baking extravaganza! I'll start with a trip to the grocery store for ingredients, then begin with toffee, progress to peppermint bark and finish with a grand slam of sugar cookies in star shapes, ginger snaps and pressed butter cookies. Woo hoo!

6. I am totally on top of this Christmas thing! Except for my Christmas cards, which are totally and completely not even started at all yet. YIKES. Need to make that a priority, like, soon.

7. Tonight is my husband's office holiday party. I love it. Every year it's just a love fest where the partners get up and say nice things about their work, their employees, their wives and their employees families, and tell the same funny stories from their early years that they told last year. There's wine, good food, and dancing (not that we partake of that because I married a non-dancer. I did so knowingly, but perhaps not fully understanding what that would mean for our lives together.) At any rate, the party is great and I get to dress up! Can't go wrong with that.

Friday, December 11, 2009

7 Quick Takes Friday

I'm notoriously bad at these 7 Quick Takes posts. Both the getting them done on time and the coming up with 7 small, but interesting things. But today HUZZAH! I have a few tidbits to post!

1. First, this awesome comic, which had me laughing over my breakfast.

Natural Parenting, XKCD-style

2. I love Advent. Someone like me, who is a procrastinator and somewhat disorganized, NEEDS a season like Advent to get ready for Christmas. I like that we have a schedule: first the wreaths, then the four week countdown, decorations on the 3rd Sunday and the tree on the 4th. If I had to jump into the whole shebang with lights, a tree, all my decor and present-shopping the day after Thanksgiving, I might have a nervous breakdown (which is, not coincidentally, what almost happened to me last February when I came back from a month-long vacation and suddenly had to put all my Christmas things away in the span of a few days.) In other words, God bless the Catholic Church in her abundant wisdom!

3. I have finished my Christmas shopping! (GASP) It is unheard of for me; I'm almost always rushing around the week of Christmas, stressed and screaming at the kids, out of money and depressed about it. But this year we set money aside each month, I liberally used Amazon, and my mother and sister came to town for St. Nicholas' Day and we did their present opening extravaganza last Sunday. Technically, I still have to get something for my husband, but since he's being uncooperative and refusing to tell me what he wants, he may end up with a construction paper heart with the words "Good for one night where you get to pick the TV shows instead of having to watch Enterprise reruns and historical documentaries."

4. These are supposed to be quick, right? Like a sentence or two each?

5. I met with a spiritual director on Tuesday last week. Finally! After two years of searching I found a nearby parish where the Priests make spiritual direction a priority and don't limit it to people discerning a vocation! I completely understand why my Parish priests can't serve in this capacity; they're just too busy. But I am thrilled to be meeting with Fr. O'Connor, who is very nice and has advised me to read "The Examen Prayer" as a way of governing my prayer life. The kids ran rampant through our entire session, knocking on the door and begging to be let in because they "Wanted to listen." I'm definitely leaving them with a babysitter next time.

6. I don't know how I'm going to find time to read the book Father recommended, because I have a backlog of about 6 books that people have given me and which I really should have finished ages ago. I just don't read, unfortunately. It is by far my favorite pastime, but it does require somewhat more energy than plopping in front of the TV, and recently that's been my evening pastime of choice. It's something I'm planning to focus on over the next few weeks. Hopefully I'll have some progress to report on it by the New Year.

7. I am finally going to see a podiatrist today. Every winter I suffer from swollen, painful toes, usually on my left foot, and it makes it impossible for me to wear heels of any kind. Normally this isn't an issue, but every now and then I do have an occasion where heels are important (husband's Holiday Party, etc) and then I am in agony for a week. Last night every toe on my left foot swelled, and the pain woke me up at 2:30 in the morning. So I am doing something about it. NOW.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Links of Interest

A few things I've have come across in the past few days, which I wanted to share with you all.

The Manhattan Declaration
A comprehensive and eloquent statement of the Christian position on abortion, gay marriage and religious liberty. I have been searching for a long time for something like this, which articulates the Christian position with both compassion and conviction. I'd like to carry around a pocket-sized version and memorize it.

Terrorism That's Personal
Please only click this link when you are away from your children and have prayerfully asked God to be with you in the viewing of it. This is a photo essay (hat tip to Feminine Genius) of women in the Middle East who have had acid thrown on them as an act of domestic violence. The article has links to similar stories, such as the famous New York Times article about the girls attacked with acid by men trying to stop them from going to school, and a woman in Asia who was burned by her husband after they divorced.

Most Reverend Jerome Listeki named Archbishop of Milwaukee
This is the priest who presided over our marriage and baptized our firstborn. He has been a family friend for many years and a blessing to all of us who know him. His intelligence, compassion, charisma and humility is unparalleled. Although I am more than happy with the wonderful Shepherd that God has given Denver, I still feel a bit of envy for Milwaukee!

Daily Readings of the Catholic Church
I've been missing Daily Mass since I decided to stop going last September. I found my temper was approaching Def Con 5 and that the frustration of trying to keep both kids upright and relatively quiet FAR exceeded any graces I might be receiving from the Eucharist. But I really missed knowing what was going on with the daily readings and the rhythm of the Church's liturgical year. So I found this link, which has the daily readings, and put it on my Toolbar at the top of my homepage. It's easy to click it, the readings don't take more than a few minutes out of my day, and it's so nice to be reminded of God's word. Happily, I think I'm going to start going back a couple times a week. I've had people at Church come up and invite me back, going out of their way to assure me that they've never been bothered by my children's antics and I should ignore anyone who tries to tell me they (or I) aren't welcome. It wasn't so much that as it was my own impatience with their antics, but it is very nice to know that we've been missed. I'm taking it as God inviting us back, and that's not an invitation you turn down!

David Crowder Band "How He Loves"
One of my favorite songs, and probably the best refrain to have constantly stuck in your head as you go about your day!!!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Keeping up the Good Work

Over the weekend we had dinner with some friends we haven't seen in a long time. During the course of the conversation, certain opinions came forth that were opposed to Church teaching. Usually in situations like these, I try to determine whether I'm being given an opportunity to defend the Church or to practice humility by remaining silent. Usually. This time I just jumped right in and started arguing. Then someone brought up the Crusades and the sex abuse scandal.

At this point I'd like to say that I rationally defended the Church and explained those anomalies in their historical and cultural context. I did not. I rolled my eyes, I laughed, I got angry and made stupid, sweeping generalizations. Eventually, we moved on to a different subject.

Times like that mostly serve to remind me how very, very far I am from a spirit of gentleness and love for my fellow man. The fact that I can get so completely worked up in a conversation with friends, to the point where I am insulting and obnoxious, illustrates that I am not letting the Holy Spirit work within me. It's discouraging to be reminded how much more spiritual growing I need to do.

But I think it's always going to be this way. Part of the sancification process involves a constant, deliberate rooting out of those sins which keep us from God. Like cleaning the house, we have to be always at work on it. Becoming aware of a fault or a sin is like finding a corner of the study that is just overflowing with accumulated junk and clutter. It takes a long time and serious effort to clean that corner, putting everything in its place and getting rid of the ugliness we don't want. But simply putting it in right order isn't enough. We have to keep visiting that corner, making sure it's not collecting junk again. We have to consciously keep it clean.

It's hard work, and again like housekeeping, it's not very rewarding in the short term. You clean, and it is immediately messy again. So you clean again, and again and again. The rewards are more subtle, such as the peace you feel from living in a place that is ordered and beautiful. Or the self-discipline that you earn by consistent effort at the same task.

Since my personality is so focused on perfection and so easily discouraged, I'm going to try and view things in more of a housekeeping light. If, in a particular circumstance, I don't manage to live up to God's standard for holiness, it's not a failure. It's not a setback. Rather, it's an indication that I need to do some praying. Finding a few leaves tracked into my living room does not mean I am a failure as a housekeeper. It's not cause for tears, recriminations or tantrums. It just means I need to get out the vacuum. Sins are like dirt: they just keep appearing, somehow. So, we just need to keep sweeping them out.

One more small sidenote: Something I've noticed from reading the Lives of the Saints is how detached they were from worldly cares. I don't mean material goods or other things of that nature. I mean actual cares: what people think of them, what's going on in the world, what's happening to them, etc. This isn't to say that they didn't have a deep and abiding compassion for the unfortunate, only that they put things in their proper perspective. This world will pass away. God's kingdom lasts forever. And the Saints had achieved such a union with the Almighty that they simply couldn't give worldly things too much importance. I think if I ever want to get to the point where I am able to read the news or discuss politics and theology with my friends and family, I will first need to develop a closeness with God that puts this world and all the things in it into its proper place.

That room in my soul where I get totally worked up over someone's differing opinion? Yeah. It needs some work.

Picture credit.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

At least the answer is clear...

The door has been shut on the adoption issue. Worried about cost and the untrustworthiness of international governments, I had looked into fost-adopt domestically. It wasn't ideal for me, particularly the long vetting process and invasive government check-ups, but I was willing to go through it.

However, my husband has made it clear that there is no circumstance under which he'd be willing to adopt a child.

So it appears that it is not God's will for us to help children in this way. As always, it's so difficult to adjust my thinking and my expectations. In my mind I keep thinking, "But I WANT this. Why can't I have it?"

Obviously, that's not the right attitude.

In recent news, a friend of mine has just broken off her engagement with her boyfriend of four years because she wants to "be with other people." As much as I think she's making a terrible mistake (and compounding it with a bunch of sins) I also kind of envy her. There's something so appealing in the idea that if you're not perfectly happy in any given situation, you just change the situation until you get what you want.

In that scenario, though, there's no growth. There's no gaining in humility from letting go of your way in favor of another's. There's no strengthening of will from sticking with something even when it's unpleasant.

I know that to my friend, my bowing to God on this issue is perceived as giving up and letting my husband win. It may feel like that in my more petulant moods, but in my heart I know better.

If God really wanted this for us, He would not have it negatively impact my primary vocation as a wife and mother. In this, at least, I can feel peace. It is not the right time. It may never be the right time. Even though it is a good and right thing I wish to do, God does not wish me to do it.

St. Frances of Rome can hear me on this one. She wanted to be a nun but her family promised her in marriage to a nobleman instead. Crying and begging God to stop the marriage, she was asked by her confessor, "Are you crying because you want to do God's will or because you want God to do yours?"

Thy will be done, Lord. Thine alone.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I Homeschooling is just SO much more difficult than I imagined it would be. I've been by turns frustrated, overwhelmed, exhausted, out of control, despondent, and incensed. You notice that none of these adjectives are conducive to rearing a small child with love and gentleness. My naive visions of sitting side by side with my rapt 6 year old son and pointing gleefully at pictures of mummies or sharks while he asked eager questions has been replaced by memories of sullen, pouting expressions and statements like, "I am NOT. Going to do it." or "This is SOOOOO boring! I want to go to Grandmas! NOW!" Both those statements, by the way, were uttered while on a Friday Field Trip to Dinosaur Ridge, where you can touch fossils (he refused to do so) and track an Iguanadon and its baby moving across a streambed in fossilized footprints. SO COOL. Or it should have been.


So this is the point where I grow smaller and let God grow bigger through me, right? This is where I learn to let go of my controlling nature and allow my son to explore the world at his own page. I mean, that's a large reason why I'm homeschooling in the first place -- I don't want my child forced to learn about Rome when he's fascinated with the Huns of ancient China. Do the Huns when he wants to do them, and come back to Rome some other time. If he wants to do six pages of math today, great. If he wants to do none, we'll just play an addition game instead.

So why is it that whenever he digs in his heels, I dig mine in even further?

I think it's the expectations that I'm putting on him. I have to keep reminding myself that we have the whole year...we don't need to reach our goals of discipline and retention overnight. I am also repeating to myself a heck of a lot, "Let go. Let go. Be flexible!"

Part of the problem is that nothing I can do schoolwise is more interesting to him than free time. Whenever I can, I capitalize on the things he's interested in so that the schoolwork is at least appealing on that level. But even writing "Superman is so awesome, he is the best superhero, he can see through anything and fly" is not more fun than dressing up as Superman and zooming around the house screaming and making whooshing noises. It is more fun than writing "AaAaAaAaAaAaAaAaAa God Alone," but it's still writing.

The thing is, he does have to do work sometimes. Our fights aren't necessarily about him not being able to do the work, or of feeling that it's pointless or boring. It's because he doesn't want to do anything, ever, that I ask him to do. Even projects that he is interested in, like making a Jabberwocky mask out of paper mache for a play we're putting on, can't compete with lying on the couch. I don't at all mind stopping his piano lessons and letting him just pick out the notes of songs he wants to play, or of spending six weeks instead of three on prehistoric dinosaurs and paleontology because he finds it interesting, or of letting him color printed pictures rather than drawing them if he hates drawing, but I am not okay with letting him do nothing all day long.

As always, my problem is figuring out when to be flexible and when to insist on something because it's important. I personally feel that setting aside time each day for schoolwork is important. Within that time frame I can be flexible: we can start with math or start with reading, we can take frequent breaks, we can interrupt one lesson to dabble a bit in something else, or whatever. But certain things MUST be done.

I have also been receiving diverse and frequent indications that order and discipline need to be my primary focus right now. Not simply for my school day or for my son, but for myself as well. I have been very successful at keeping to my schedule of late, mostly because my life is so full that any deviation invites immediate disaster. This doesn't mean that I'm disciplined, though. It just means that I'm scheduled. Discipline means getting up when the alarm goes off. It means actually reading my theology meditation instead of thinking aimless thoughts about where the day went wrong. It means refusing to answer the phone during school hours, even if it's my mom or my sister on the other end. It means maintaining a calm spirit when I am frustrated or overwhelmed.

Discipline for my son means doing his work carefully when he's asked to do it and separating his desires from his duties. I've made him a "character" chart with (of course) Superman flying high at the top. Whenever he shows fortitude, prudence, justice, or temperance, he gets to put a small sticker on the chart. As the four columns rise up like the towering skyscrapers of Metropolis, he will get closer and closer to Superman, that paragon of virtue and model of self-control (well, as long as you limit your canon to the pre-1960 comics and TV series and ignore all the movies.) Sometimes it serves to motivate him when he really wants to quit a page of math. Sometimes it doesn't. But at least it's a goal. And as I'm trying to remind myself: it doesn't need to happen overnight.

That goes for myself as well. I won't magically become super-homeschooling-mom simply because I've started homeschooling. This is as much a learning process for me as it is for my son. Self-improvement is a lifelong, never-ending journey, and God will keep working to change me until I die. Brandon Heath has a great song about this, with the refrain:

There is hope for me yet,
Because God won't forget
All the plans he's made for me.
I'll have to wait and see.
He's not finished with me yet.

Actually, if you're Catholic you believe that He works on you after death, too, sort of. That's what Purgatory is, right? A final stage of refinement to complete the change from flawed human to pure soul bound for eternity with God. Change isn't easy. Actually, nothing that's worth doing is easy. So in that sense, I'm grateful for this trial. But I'm also hoping my son and I come to some sort of resolution soon. 'Cause this is pretty tough.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Intentions for October

The Intentions of the Holy Father for the month of October are:

General: That Sunday may be lived as the day on which Christians gather to celebrate the risen Lord, participating in the Eucharist.

Mission: That the entire People of God, to whom Christ entrusted the mandate to go and preach the Gospel to every creature, may eagerly assume their own missionary responsibility and consider it the highest service they can offer humanity.

May we concentrate this month on truly living out our Sunday sabbath: making it the Lord's day and committing those hours in a special way to Him. May we, with zeal and energy, live our faith in an outward fashion and share it with everyone we meet.

For our family, we will be making Sunday night dinners special by lighting a candle and praying that the faith may become more and more widespread, as well as faithfully practiced.

All of the Pope's Intentions for the calendar year can be found here.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

One of my favorite Bible verses is today's Bible Verse of the Day:

Bible Verse Of The Day

Saturday, October 3, 2009

— 1 John 4:7-11 —
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Bookmark to get a quote every day.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Laura at I'm an Organizing Junkie runs a weekly meal planning link fest. I've been meaning to do this for ages and Lo! a Monday with a bit of extra time appears. So here's our meal plan for this week. Anytime you see zucchini or eggplant, it's from my garden. *beams* Items that are in italics are already prepared (I try to cook double and freeze whenever possible.)

Monday (Labor Day)
Lunch: lentil-chorizo stew and chile cornbread
Dinner: burgers, sweet potato fries, fried zucchini and pickled asparagus

Spanish Beans and Rice (Slow-cooker)

South Beach meatloaf, mashed cauliflower and spinach salad

Bulghur and lentil stuffed eggplant (Slow-cooker)

Zucchini slice

Lunch: Spaghetti with wilted spinach
Dinner: Tamale pie

Lunch: Leftovers
Dinner: Tuna Casserole with Spinach

Shopping list: whole wheat buns, brown rice, lentils, eggs, ginger, onions, kidney beans, cornmeal, sour cream, 2 gallons milk, cauliflower

On hand in fridge or pantry: zucchini, spinach, pasta, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, tamari, garlic, eggplant, ground beef, bulghur, pinto beans, frozen corn, tuna, butter, chiles, sweet potatoes, red peppers, cheddar cheese, carrots, pine nuts, pecans, maple syrup, and spices

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Turning Annoyances into Opportunities

The vacation is over. (sigh) I came home to a disgusting house where nothing was in the right place and a long to-do list of doctor's appointments, paperwork, errands and organizing that needed to be done STAT. My husband was so wonderful in my absence and got an amazing amount of work done. He painted the whole basement, tore up the old carpet, and sealed and primed the floor for the new laminate that we had a contractor put down the day after I arrived back. He also moved the incredibly heavy wood furniture that I found on sale at a thrift store and bought the day I left for my vacation. It's all in our bedroom looking lovely.

Of course, all this work meant that things which normally stayed in the basement out of sight or in our bedroom holding our clothes were now all over the house, taking up space and inviting the kids to mess with them. Trying to clean and get back into the swing of things with everything so chaotic really stressed me out. This sort of situation is the worst for my temperament. I get very focused on a task and if I am interrupted (as I constantly am by my two children, or the phone, or whatever) my visceral response is anger. I need to consciously work to overcome that anger and deal with the new situation, which is exhausting for me. I am also very easily discouraged and a perfectionist, which means that I set ridiculously high goals for myself and then am thrown into a depression when I'm unable to meet them the way I want to.

Since learning about my temperament, I've been consciously focusing on seeing my emotional reactions for what they are. Rather than letting myself become angry or depressed when I am confronted with challenges, I need to use them to grow closer to God.

Two good examples of this from last week helped me to realize what God is calling me to do. On Tuesday morning our neighbor's dog got run over by a car. Since I saw the accident and knew who owned the dog, I rushed to their house to let them know. Unforunately, it was first thing in the morning and I was still in my nightgown, so I didn't linger in the street to express my sorrow. I ran back inside and by the time I was changed the owner was removing the dog from the street and heading back into their house. I wanted to express my condolences, so I tried to bake them some zucchini bread. I say "tried" because it didn't work out. The bread came out overdone, as it almost always does because I STILL have not figured out how to bake at high altitude (even though I was using a HIGH ALTITUDE COOKBOOK. Ahem.)

My personality took over at this point. Overcome with disappointment that my nice gesture had failed, I sadly ate the bread myself and did nothing for my neighbor. Now, I know I could have used the opportunity for something. Humility, perhaps, in giving a less-than-perfect loaf of bread to the neighbors. Patience, by baking another loaf. Flexibility (which is a virtue, even though it's not usually listed,) by writing out a condolence card and putting that in their mailbox. After all, they didn't NEED zucchini bread to know that I was thinking of them. But I didn't do any of that.

I have been observing lately how often I allow my temperament to control my actions. While I can't change who I am, I can be a better me. I must not allow myself to be ruled by my impulses. I need to master them. It's all part of the greater goal I have for spiritual discipline and going outside my comfort zone to do God's will.

If the first example shows me where I am deficient in my deeds, the second shows me that I am also deficient in my thoughts. Because I want to keep this blog somewhat free of politics I won't go into a long explanation of what has bothered me these past few weeks. Suffice it to say I am not always impressed with other people's opinions or the way they choose to express them. So that, often, when I encounter an abundance of vitriol about a particular issue, my reaction is to turn away from the entire discussion and stick my head in the sand. I give up, not only on the discussion, but sometimes on the person themselves.

Giving up is not in God's plan. But I've been wondering if He is leading me to silence and prayer rather than dialogue and debate. The fact is, I am good at expressing myself, but I am not good at rhetoric. I am too emotionally involved in the issues to discuss them rationally and reasonably. I'm inclined to consider this a strength: I am passionate in my beliefs. My natural inclination is to engage, engage, engage on issues I believe in, but my temperament means that this activity all too often tempts me into judgment and despair.

I feel God is challenging me to give up my way of engaging an opposing viewpoint and instead turn to prayer -- silent, personal, active prayer. When next I encounter a viewpoint or argument that makes me clench my fists and gnash my teeth and consider a witty, hateful status update on Facebook, I need instead to bring my palms together gently, fall upon my knees and pray for peace, kindness, compassion, justice, wisdom, courage, and love. What a beautiful response to being annoyed!

Accountability Analysis
Week of August 30th
Working on: Organizing house for start of homeschool, cleaning, meeting requirements for all activities
Successes: healthy eating, consistent outdoor playtime, all requirements for activities met!
Challenges: finding time for prayer, keeping my temper
Average daily HOS: 0

Week of September 7
Working on: establishing Rule and routine for school year, turning to God when annoyed

Picture credit.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Can Food Be Simplified?

One of my goals as a radical steward is to cultivate a life of simplicity. I don't want to get bogged down with material possessions, over-scheduled with unnecessary activities, that sort of thing. I also don't want to be over-thinking every decision and spending hours on the internet researching other people's opinions and viewpoints.

That's why it's a bit ironic that this post on making sense of the food debates has taken me four days to put together. I'm trying to simplify here, not confuse myself further!

From organic vegetables and superfoods to modern agriculture and Federal oversight, from milk to meat and back again, food is a national conversation. Everyone has an opinion, but no one really agrees. There is some consensus on a few key points, however, and the laws of nature and science aren't being altered no matter how strongly people try!

1. Make food important, but strive for balance. Many Americans are actually malnourished even though our country is suffering from an obesity epidemic because processed foods are devoid of essential nutrients. The amount of food we eat, the way we grow it, and the trade relations we have with other countries affect people's lives on a global level. Food is important. We need to pay attention to it. But, we must not let it not become an obsession or a form of control. We must do the best we can in our individual situations, and let go of the rest. Neither the quest for perfect health nor the desire to promote a fairer standard of food production should ever overshadow our quest for holiness or our ability to create meaningful relationships with our fellow man.

2. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. This is Michael Pollan's advice and it is one of the best ways to ensure you are eating what God intended. "Food" means anything that is recognizable as such. Nothing with day-glo colors, like blue oatmeal, or things that are processed past resemblance to their original state, like corn syrup or soy protein granules. Don't overeat, or eat simply for something to do. Try a bread and water fast to determine how little we really need to eat in order to get through the day. If we feel the need to snack on something, we should make a cup of tea or get a glass or water, and offer up our hunger pangs for the less fortunate. Plants should form the foundation of our diet. Occasional meat is good (the sick, pregnant, the very young and the very old probably need meat every day,) some fish is beneficial, but we can get every single thing we need from the vegetable kingdom, with the addition of a few animal proteins like eggs.

3. Avoid additives and processed foods. We always seem to have a scapegoat to blame for our unhealthy conditions. First it was salt, then fat, then sugar, and now carbs. The truth is, all those things are bad for you in excess, but they are also all part of the natural foods God intended us to eat. This article on sugar does a great job discounting some of the myths and presenting the facts in a scientific and complete manner.

To summarize: your body breaks down the food you eat by extracting all usable vitamins and minerals and converting the rest into glucose, a simple sugar. Your liver then converts that glucose into energy or fat depending on your body's needs. Refined sugars and simple carbs, however, are already broken down into their simplest component and stripped of vitamins, so instead of nourishing your body, they are either converted directly into excess fat, or worse, quickly enter your bloodstream and mess with your blood sugar levels. The problem is not with sugar or starches, per se; it's with foods that have unhealthy amounts of these ingredients, or that are made from ingredients that have been overprocessed, stripped of their natural vitamins, minerals, and fiber and reduced to nothing more than empty calories. Besides being a ridiculous waste, it's incredibly unhealthy.

The biggest perpetrators of such food crimes? Packaged goods and ready-made meals. And these foods also tend to contain the largest amounts of trans fats because hydrogenation gives oils a longer shelf-life. One piece of advice I received years ago has made the most difference for me in my attempt to avoid sugar, additives and simple carbs: Shop the outside edge of the supermarket. On the edge is where you find meats, produce, and dairy items, which should make up the bulk of your diet. Enter the aisles only for goods in raw form (whole wheat flour rather than box mixes) or for canned goods that say "low sodium." Buy fresh whenever possible, make it at home rather than getting it from a store, and drink only milk, water or tea (and beneficial alcohols like red wine.)

I am very easily frustrated when faced with too many sides to explore. It's so easy to get lost and discouraged, but it doesn't have to be so complicated. Sometimes simplifying means turning off the outside noise and just getting back to what we know works. Cooking a meal for your family using whole, natural ingredients, and then sitting down together to eat. What could be simpler than that?

Photo credit.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Seeing Things Clearly

I had LASIK eye surgery a couple weeks ago. My mother gifted it to me on my 30th birthday, but since I was a brand new mother (my youngest was only a week old at that time!) I wanted to wait until I didn't have a tiny being completely dependent upon me for sustenance before I went through the surgery. Two years went by, and my mom finally got on my case to get the surgery done, even offering to come stay with me for a week and help me out as I convalesced. (Not that it takes a week, but hey, if she's making the trip she may as well stick around and spend some quality time with the kids.)
Before I scheduled the surgery, I read up on the procedure and the center where I was having it done. I felt very confident in my doctor and his skills (he's probably the best LASIK surgeon in Colorado and has even developed a laser of his own design.) Everyone I spoke with was both kind and knowledgeable, allaying any concerns I had about the procedure itself or my suitability for it.

That didn't stop me from having nightmares as the surgery loomed, or lying awake with vague fears of losing my sight all together and never seeing my daughter in her prom dress, developing an infection that might cause me to lose an eye, or some other equally rare and unlikely disaster.

I turned to my husband for support one night, as we were getting ready for bed, asking him how he felt about my upcoming surgery.
He admitted that he was nervous about the procedure and had some trepidation about how it would all turn out. I was like...ummmm...are you not aware you are supposed to be a rock upon which I can build a fortress of emotional security? You are not allowed to feel nervousness about this!

Which brought me to the realization I should have had from the start: I need to rely on God alone. My husband, amazing man though he is, cannot save me from fears or suffering. Only God can turn my tears into dancing.

That night I had a dream where I died. It's the way of dreams that you don't know at the time that things aren't real. Everything feels real, feels as though it's truly happening. When my group discovered that the Enterprise wasn't going to rescue us and the planet we were on was about to explode, I truly in that moment felt the overpowering panic that I would have in any situation where there was no escape. (Yes, yes, I know. Star Trek dreams belie a deep and abiding nerdiness that can't be disguised. Anyway.) I clearly remember standing there, watching the sky-high ball of flame rushing toward me and knowing it was beyond impossible to survive what was coming. So I didn't bother with fear. I just accepted it and turned my thoughts to Jesus. The flames rushed in and bright light blinded me. I reached out my arms, smiling, peace enfolding me, and looked for my Savior.

I opened my eyes to darkness and crushing disappointment. I wasn't dead, after all. I was just dreaming.

Turns out, the surgery wasn't easy for me at all. I prayed the Hail Mary over and over to get through it, and spent three times as long in recovery as everyone else that day. But it all turned out well: my vision is 20/18 and my eyes are healing nicely. I didn't even really think about the dream while I was on the table or in recovery, but I've put the two together since then. What I struggle with most in this life is trust. Trust in God, in others, in myself, too. The dream was showing me that whenever I am faced with a problem, while the outcome may not be what I wanted, if I turn to God I will find happiness in it.

I've been pondering how this relates to my attempts to discern God's will for my life. In a profound way, it brings me comfort. The details of my future aren't important. What's important is that I turn to God and make Him the center of anything I do. Most importantly, though, it reminds me that things are not all up to me. I didn't want to be blind any more than I wanted to be on an exploding planet, but either way, it's God alone in whom I should place my trust. No one else has the power to save me.

When I think about the dream now, I don't feel any of the lingering fear a nightmare usually evokes. What I most remember is the joy and expectation I felt peering through the white light trying to see God. John writes of heaven:
Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.
They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever. --Revelation 22:3-5
Amen, Lord Jesus!

Picture credit.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I'm writing from my vacation up north in Michigan. My in-laws have a house right on the lake in a little village that used to be a thriving lumber town before the turn of the century. It's just south of Sleeping Bear Dunes and part of the National Lakeshore, which makes it a truly remarkable place with views that bring peace into your soul. Today the lake is extremely windy and agitated. From inside, through a window and while sitting in a patch of sunlight, the lake is lovely. Trying to sit on the beach, though, would be totally miserable.

If I thought about it long enough, I feel like I could come up with some cool metaphor linking the beauty of a windy lake from inside the security of a warm log house with the beneficence of faith sheltering me from the winds of circumstance or something, but you know what? I am on vacation and I just don't have the brainpower! Sorry...

Since I am away from home (and on vacation, have I mentioned that?) I am relaxing my Rule in terms of keeping on schedule. I do have several guidelines for my month up here, though.

(Those of you with kids can read these like the Genie from Aladdin)
Rule #1! I can't completely let go of my prayer life. At a minimum, I want to drag the kids to Mass on Sunday for one hour of absolutely hellish aggravation that makes me question my decision to raise my children as Catholics, pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy daily for my parents, say one decade of the Rosary for the intentions of the Rosary Crusade each night, and offer each morning to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Rule #2! I can't overindulge myself. I can have pie, ONCE a day. I can have ice cream, on a day I DON'T eat pie. Just because my in-laws are generous, fun-loving people does not mean I can take advantage of their munificence and get a new outfit every time we walk around the downtown. It's not a bad idea to keep some level of discipline going with the kids, too. One new toy per outing is PLENTY.

Rule #3! I can't pawn off my children entirely on their grandparents and spend the day blogging...oops. No, seriously. Doob Time and Gin Time need to be preserved. 1/2 an hour a day for each child, concrete, one-on-one activities that they choose. It really is too easy up here to let Grandma and Grandpa entertain them all day. Especially because all four of them enjoy that time so much.

So there you have it. Minimum standards for vacation. I have additional goals of setting out my curriculum plan to begin Homeschooling the Doob when we return, and possibly finishing Pope Benedict XVI's latest encyclical, of which I am 1/2 way through. There's also a book on the 1967 Arab-Israeli war that's caught my attention, and possibly something on Northern Michigan flora and fauna...but more likely I will spend my evenings chatting with my in-laws and watching what passes for news up here. Last night's Top Story: the weather forecast. I kid you not. We are all on vacation up here, I guess!

God Bless you all.

Picture credit.

Friday, July 24, 2009

7 Quick Takes Friday

I don't usually do these, but today I have a few small things I'd like to post.

1. A little goes a long way. I discovered today that I have a rather inflated reputation for knowledge of Catholic traditions among my Mom's group at Church. This is highly embarrassing for me, because it stems from my nerdy proclivity to shout out all the answers during class. Like when the Deacon is searching for the name of the saint that chose to die for her unborn child, I can't seem to help myself from yelling out "Gianna Molla!" This is actually a fault of mine I'm trying to curb (see my Lenten promise to let go of my opinion) but I'm somewhat comforted that my friends seem to see me as a source of information rather than an opinionated know-it-all.

2. Thank God for my Rosary. I had LASIK eye surgery on Wednesday. It did not go well. Oh the surgery itself was phenomenal; I can now see with almost 20/20 vision and expect to develop even greater clarity as time goes on and my corneal swelling goes down. But I had a severe panic attack as soon as the laser touched my eye. Two nurses had to hold me down while I mouthed the Hail Mary over and over again. Afterwards, I couldn't stop violently shaking, so hard they couldn't get a blood pressure reading on me. So I asked for my Rosary. And the moment it touched my hands I stopped shaking and felt peace. It still took me 5 decades before I was calm enough to open my eyes and go home, but I felt the Holy Spirit from that first instant. Unbelievers will chalk it up to the power of my own mind, I'm sure. I know better.

3. We're dogsitting. I hate dogs. My opinion has not been changed in the slightest with the addition of this creature to my household. Apologies in advance to all those who love dogs, but they are disgusting, slobbering, smelly things. If I wanted to clean up poop every day, I'd just stop putting my toddler in diapers. However, one of the ladies I volunteer with needed me to watch her Chihuahua puppy, so I am doing this for her. Today was supposed to be the end of it, but she called and asked me to extend till Tuesday. In my mind I said, "What? Forget it! I have barely been hanging on, expecting that this ordeal would end this afternoon, and now you want me to double my committment?" Needless to say, I am getting lots of practice with sacrificial love.

4. Ask and ye shall receive. I have been asking God for guidance in regards to my parents' marriage. This week He gave 100% clear instructions. We are now confident about the path He wishes us to tread, and though it will be difficult, I'm grateful for the answer.

5. The Bagpipe Didn't Say No. I've been occasionally bringing up the subject of adding to our family whenever it happens naturally in conversation. My husband's reaction can be summed up in one word: "Eh." More children are not on his wishlist, but he doesn't feel strongly enough to prevent more. So we've decided to start being open to life at the beginning of next year. Personally, I'd love to conceive tomorrow, but given that my pregnancies require the active participation of every member of the family, it's really more considerate if we wait until a less hectic season of the year. Also, I want some time to let God speak to me and assure me that giving up on adoption for now really is His will. I welcome any prayers you can give me on this.

6. Get the Right Tool for the Right Job. Ever since Wimbledon, my son has been an avid tennis player. Federer has inspired him, so we are on the courts at least once every day, sometimes more than that. Yesterday my mom took us to the sporting goods store and we got a tennis ball hopper. Man, what a difference that makes! My back is no longer begging me for mercy and my son's aim is really improving.

7. It takes a family. My husband has been out of town these two days. I've hardly noticed. Of course, I miss him, and it's lonely to sleep in that huge bed all by myself, but with my mom here I haven't lacked for company or assistance even for a minute. While cooking dinner together the other night, I realized what beauty we're missing with our society's single-family dwellings. The same house might be uncomfortably close sometimes, but there's no substitute for extended-family togetherness, especially when it comes to the daily domestic tasks that can be so tiresome and frustrating. Sharing the job doesn't just lighten the work load, it lightens the heart, too.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Looking Beyond "Can't"

I'm working on figuring out a private budget based on a 10% tithe. I've been so frustrated and bewildered by how on earth I can possibly save enough money for a tithe when, based on the arrangement we have for giving to charity, only a quarter of what I save will actually go to the Church (the rest is for savings and my husbands charities.) When I figured it out, (and it's very possible my math is wrong here) I'd have to save more than I spend. I honestly can't do it; it's not a matter of better budgeting. It's just impossible.

But I think perhaps I've been going about it backwards. I don't need to actually put that amount of money into the Parish envelope each month. I don't even have to actually save that amount. What I need to do is develop a lifestyle with the tithe at the base so that we live at a Godly means.

Instead of thinking, "I just can't do it," I must think, "What can I do?" If lowering my food budget by $100 a month gets me closer to that tithe, then that's something I can do. If buying a duvet cover instead of a new comforter for the guest room gets me closer to a thithe, then that's something I can do, too. Rather than feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by my limitations, I need to concentrate instead on the small things I can do on my journey to full stewardship.

That mantra has hit home in a big way in regards to a family situation I'm encountering. Right now I am boiling over with indignation and my gut instinct is to cut off all communication with this one family member. Permanently. When I think about the Christian commandment to show love and compassion, I think, "I just CAN'T do it!" I absolutely cannot love this person now. Can. Not. Do. It.

So, what can I do?

1. I can pray for them.
I don't want to. This person has caused extreme suffering to those I love, entirely through their own weakness, selfishness, and poor choices. I'd rather pray for the soul of Natalia Estemirova and the situation in Chechnya. There are people dying from hunger who better deserve my prayers. My friend with four children and one on the way is moving this week and needs my prayers, as does another friend who's been trying to conceive for years, and another friend whose husband may quit his job. I'd like to pray for my online friends, whose situations are no less dear to me despite our never having met in person.

Unfortunately, I'm not a Carmelite. So I can't pray for everything I want to and also be present with my family. Wouldn't my prayers be better spent on someone who deserves it?

Short answer: no. Though that's how I feel, I know it's not the way God works. And it's a darn good thing He's rather more merciful than I, or we'd all be in a boat-load of trouble.

2. I can be kind to them.
There's no need to write angry emails. There's no need to trash them verbally in front of my kids or the rest of the family. I don't think I'll be able to have a conversation over the phone or anything, but if the situation comes up I can simply say, "Now is not a good time. I'll have to get back to you."

That's enough to start on, I think. Anything else seems beyond me right now. I can pray for guidance, wisdom and the intervention of the Holy Spirit for myself, as I've been doing. And in the meantime I can concentrate on eating down my pantry, because with this new budget it looks like my grocery shopping is pretty much done for the month except for milk, bananas and grapes. It's not at all a problem, though. Thanks to Costco I could probably feed six people on corn chips alone!

God Bless.

Photo credit.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Coming up for Air

My dad's 2-week visit ended this morning; I have one week before my mom comes to stay with us for 5 days. I'm just planning to spend this week running errands and getting back on schedule, as it's not practical to follow my Rule to the letter when I have guests.

In all, we had a nice visit. The Holy Spirit afforded me the opportunity to talk candidly with my dad about the Church's position on Christian marriage. If any fruits come from that talk, it will be all the doing of the Lord. I continue to pray for His guidance in my life and those of my parents, and for the Holy Spirit to come into every conversation I have with either of them.

Accountability Analysis
Weeks of June 28 and July 5th
Working on: Organizing house for Dad's visit and maintaining spirit of humility and love
Successes: Kindness and charity to family members, lots of quality time with kids and husband, good housekeeping
Challenges: stubbornness
Average daily HOS: 1

Week of July 12
Working on: routine and prayer times

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pizza Night

I love pizza. L.O.V.E. love it, and I don't care if it's full of carbs, or fat, or whatever, I like it and I want to eat it often. However, I do not like bad pizza...the greasy, limp, cardboard kind with tangy sauce and canned toppings and way too much salt. So I'm constantly on the quest for good pizza. We've found a place here in Denver that might have the awesomest pizza known to man. Beau Jos. They're historic, green, community minded, and about as healthy as pizza can get, plus their pies are heavenly.

However, their prices are just not at a level that allows us to eat there once a week, which is what we'd do if I had my druthers.

So I've been working on perfecting pizza night at our house. The kids get really into it, and I am blessed with a husband who eats whatever I put in front of him, so I don't have to worry too much about experimenting.

Tonight I made a pesto pizza with feta, tomato, Kalamata olives and red onion, a regular pizza with mushrooms and spinach, and individual cheese pizzas for the kids. At Christmas last year I bought my son a set of 4 individual pizza trays and a kid-sized rolling pin (isn't Montessori great?) Now he rolls out his dough, slops on the sauce and cheese, and gets to feel the pride of a master chef when he sees his creation come browned and bubbling out of the oven. My bread maker spits out PERFECT pizza dough, and the large size splits exactly into 4 mini pizzas and two medium ones for us adults. I even use 1/2 whole wheat flour and the dough is still stretchy and pliable. Plus, with the bread maker, I only need to spend about an hour in the kitchen, comparable to my normal cooking routine.

I've calculated it out, and even ignoring the benefits of making the kids ridiculously happy and avoiding for one night the dinner-table struggle to get the kids to eat, and the fun of preparing the pizzas as a family, and the satisfaction of being able to choose exactly what toppings go on it, pizza night at our house costs less than $15 (and that's with exotic ingredients like feta cheese and Kalamata olives. Without those it'd be under $10.)

I love finding the perfect spot between saving money and creating happiness. Pizza night does both.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Love, first.

A 50/50 week. I made great improvement toward doing productive activities like sewing, writing, cleaning and reading to the kids, but that doesn't mean I watched any less TV. I blame Federer. How am I supposed to refrain from watching Wimbledon? The FIFA final didn't help matters either. Most of my progress only came in the latter half of the week, though.

At Mass yesterday we had a BVM sister come speak to us about her mission to people with Hansen's Disease (leprosy). She and her sisters run The Damien House in Ecuador. Our parish made a substantial gift from its funds, which, since we are a stewardship parish, came directly from the collection. Hearing her speak about the plight of these people brought me to tears, not because of their physical suffering, but because of the way they are outcasts from society. She said the name of the street upon which their hospital is built was called "La calle sin nombre." The Street Without a Name.

The first thing these sisters did when they arrived at this hospital didn't have anything to do with distributing medicine. Their first order of business was to clean: scrape moldy paint off the walls, rid the floor of rats and roaches, sanitize the kitchen so the food stayed fresh, change the linens, plant other words, beautify the space so the patients would feel human again. I found such comfort in that, in the fact that they knew their first order of business was to create a loving atmosphere for the people they were serving. Of course, they also made sure everyone received treatment for the disease, advocated for better access to medincines, opened the doors to anyone who needed to receive care, and set up a weekly meeting where everyone could voice their opinions about the conditions in the hospital and their individual needs.

Yet it came down to love, first and foremost. Whenever I grow frustrated by the abysmally slow growth of my charity fund, God reminds me that it's not all about the benjamins. If love comes first, then a spirit of charity and forgiveness, of reaching out to everyone I meet, and of instilling a sense of compassion in my children are my first priorities. I'm still trying to save as much as I can, but family outings like going bowling or taking the kids to Cici's Pizza are acts of charity, even though they cost money, because they are building love.

Accountability Analysis
Week of June 21
Working on: Getting everyone ready by 9 am
Successes: Getting ready by 10 (hey, it's progress!), marriage-building, consistent with daily prayers
Challenges: yelling, laziness
Average daily HOS: 3

Week of June 28
Working on: Organizing house for Dad's visit

Monday, June 22, 2009


I'm noticing an increasing need for more accountability in my life. I have grand ideas and excellent intentions, but I keep falling away from the disciplines I'm setting myself. A spiritual director would be ideal for this (*wistful sigh*) but I really just can't see how that can happen. I have spoken with the Priests at my Parish and none of them do counseling (except for those discerning a vocation.) Regnum Christi provides spiritual counseling as part of its charism to those who join, but I've not received an indication that God wants me to go that route. I've heard only wonderful things about the Neocatechumenal Way, which we have at my Parish, but they are formatted in lay groups to support members' spiritual growth. I really do not need support; I need guidance. The Lanteri Center for Spirituality does do counseling, but I'm at a loss as to how to work the child care aspect as they are far away and only open during business hours. It's one of my fundamental dillemas: how to pursue my spiritual needs without overburdening my husband or our finances.

So, I've told the Lord to show me an opportunity for spiritual counseling if that's His will, and in the meantime I'm trying to go it alone.

Which is the crux of my problem. I am not independently motivated and am very, very, VERY bad at self-discipline. I need, as one dancing partner in my salsa classes once told me, "A firm hand." It's apparently true for my life as well as my dancing.

At the moment I have a daily schedule as outlined in A Mother's Rule of Life that organizes my day into activites around the 5 Ps (Prayer, Person, Partner, Parent, Provider. I add Pastorage as well, because I don't feel my volunteer time is accurately encompassed by either Prayer or Person.) It's realistic, balanced (though necessarily heavy on time with the kids and taking care of them,) but liveable. I'm not following all of it, though, because I tend to do only those things that people are asking me to do. Given that the most vocal people in my life are my children, I am excellent at tending to their needs. However, the activities that have no one advocating for them, such as afternoon prayers and sewing, have stopped entirely, and I'm watching reruns of Star Trek at night instead of reading or spending time with my husband.

I'd like to post weekly on my successes and challenges, mostly so that I have a place to look back and determine patterns in my progress, but also for the practice of reporting my efforts. If that little bit of motivation helps me to choose wisely when I'm confronted with temptation, it will be well worth the small bit of embarrassment from admitting just how much of my day is dedicated to spec-fi.

Week of: June 14
Successes: One-on-one time with kids, keeping up with laundry, sticking to budget
Challenges: Scolding and sarcasm, self-indulgences, obsessing over Star Trek
Average daily HOS (Hours On Schedule): 3

Week of: June 21
Working on: Getting everyone ready by 9 am

Star Trek Fan in Withdrawal Credit

Monday, June 15, 2009

Upcoming Encyclical

I am very excited to read the Pope's newest encyclical (due out at the end of June.)

It sounds like he will be addressing the world economy and market ethics.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Freedom Does Not Mean Lawlessness

In the wake of Tiller's murder, we've all seen a host of debates, comments, blogs and articles that suggest the killing is the fault of the pro-life movement. The underlying premise seems to be that people who espouse pro-life principles are hypocrites because they "only care about people until they're born" or because their inflammatory language promotes hate-crimes such as the one that killed Tiller.

Unfortunately, both of these accusations are absolutely true of some people who claim to be pro-life. They are not, however, characteristic of the vast majority, and certainly not of the pro-life movement as a whole.

The pro-life movement is committed to protecting the dignity of life in all its forms. The myriad pregnancy centers, post-abortive counseling centers, and adoption agencies demonstrate that the pro-life movement cares about moms AND their babies. In addition, the movement's consistent support for families and the poor, and its opposition to domestic violence, stem cell research, capital punishment, and euthanasia, as well as the compassion with which most protesters treat the pregnant women they encounter, illustrates a firm interest in the welfare of humanity as a whole. In the wake of the Tiller murder, almost every branch of the pro-life movement, from the Bishops of the Catholic Church and the National Right to Life, to individual bloggers and citizens, have unequivocably condemned the murder of Tiller and disavowed any sort of violence to effect their
position. The very few who have spoken about their joy in his death have, in that very statement, placed themselves outside the movement.

Yet the animosity towards the pro-life position continues. Theresa Bonapartis has written an elloquent and beautiful article for Catholic Online addressing the idea of what constitues a "pro-life extremist." She writes:

When our military recruiting station was attacked this week, and Private William Long was killed and another wounded, the word terrorist was never used to describe the murderers. I have not heard Obama speaking publicly against them, or Eric Holder asking for additional security for our recruitment centers. Are the anti war demonstrators or Code Pink responsible for this act of violence?

A firm belief in the truth and a committment to pursuing it does not qualify as extremism, nor does it either promote or condone violence. Much like those who want to brand faithful Catholics as "fundamentalists" because we hold to the teachings of the Church in their entirety, this sort of blanket statement obfuscates the reality of the issue by framing it exclusively in the context of personal freedom vs. religious-based tyranny.

The crux of the argument (embodied by our President's statements on the issue) is that the decision to have an abortion is an extremely personal one, and that the only individual suited to make that decision is the woman herself. Any legislation to limit abortion would impose an outside (government sponsored) approval that should not be necessary. A woman has the right to make her own choices.

Except that she doesn't. For some reason, abortion is the ONLY circumstance in which our society believes a woman's personal beliefs should supersede the rule of law. A woman does not have the right to kill her husband if he is abusing her. A woman does not have the right to embezzle funds from her place of work if she thinks her salary is too low. A woman does not have the right to refuse to hire an African American because she believes they are dangerous. In all other cases, what the woman decides as right or wrong must fall within the boundaries of what society deems right or wrong.

Sometimes, this means the woman has to endure suffering. It means that a woman in an abusive relationship has to go to the police and fill out a detailed report and submit to photos that may cause her acute embarrassment. She may have to move to ensure her safety, uprooting her family and possibly staying for some time in a shelter. She may have to go to court, losing days of work to appear in person and file for divorce or press charges against her abuser. In some of the worst cases, she may be made the victim twice over, when the courts refuse to render a judgment that stops the abuse, or worse, when a technicality allows the abuser to come after her or her children.

Why do we put women through this, when clearly they are suffering? Why do we force them to increase their suffering rather than allowing them the more simple solution of shooting their husband in the head while he sleeps?

The answer is obvious. We force the woman to take difficult steps because those steps make our society into a civilized one where the law, not the individual, is the arbiter of justice. Even when the law fails, as it does on occasion, a woman cannot decide to pursue vigilante justice and take matters into her own hands. Despite her suffering, despite the wrongness of the situation, we still hold that the greater good is being served by having a process determine when an abusive situation is in evidence, and requiring that any punishment take place through the citizen-appointed system that exists for that purpose. We can still, as a society, show an abused woman compassion while simultaneously insisting that she submit herself to the higher authority of the law, even when that means the greatest burden of its implementation will, by nature, fall upon her.

No matter how
much thought someone puts into it, no matter how difficult it is, or how wrenching, no matter how moral or thoughtful or careful a woman is, she does not have the right to make the decision whether her child lives or dies. That decision is NOT between a woman or her family and her doctor. It is God's alone, and always will be.

Photo credit.

Welcome the Stranger

I've blogged before about immigration. It's a subject near and dear to my heart, as I am a first generation immigrant, and my parents are immigrants twice over (first to Australia and then to America.) My father and his family, especially, endured hatred and ostracism when they first arrived in Australia, similar to what Hispanics endure here in the US or what the Irish endured when first they arrived in the mid 1800's.

Maltese are lazy, good for nothing, Mary-worshiping thieves. Let them in your community and you'll soon see crime rise. It won't be safe. Hire a Maltese and they'll rob you blind, if they're smart enough to do the work, which most aren't. They have no manners. They take good jobs away from true Australians and pervert Australian culture with their backwards, old-European ways. They should just go back where they came from.

My dad kept his head up and his mind on his books for the most part. He graduated at the top of his class and received two degrees from the most prestigious university in his state, then went on to get his Master's. He works very hard and runs his business with integrity and compassion. If he has to fire someone, he finds them another job. He is proud of his Maltese heritage and has invested in businesses in Malta (which really I think he's done because it gives him an excuse to visit there several times a year!)

His is the face of an immigrant, a stranger. His story echoes the story of many others in his position, but it is uniquely his.

The greatest challenge in the immigration debate is to focus not on groups or ethnicities, but on the people who make up the crisis. We have to beware that we are not lumping individuals into categories and stripping them of their human dignity. And that applies to each and every person on all sides of the debate.

My bishop, God bless his wonderful soul, has recently written on this subject, with an emphasis on the biblical roots of the immigration discussion. He says in part:

We become what we do, for good or for evil. If we act and speak like bigots, that’s what we become. If we act with justice, intelligence, common sense and mercy, then we become something quite different. We become the people and the nation God intended us to be. Our country’s immigration crisis is a test of our humanity. Whether we pass it is entirely up to us.

There are several ways to approach the immigration issue in our nation. We can take an "us vs them" mentality, hold tight to that which we believe is rightfully ours, and demonize those who oppose us. We can go overboard with our pity, selectively appropriating our compassion to those who risk their lives to enter this country, and ignoring the needs of those who have always lived here. We can let our biases and wrong impressions cloud our judgment and affect our opinions. Or we can recognize our common humanity and work for programs which benefit Americans and immigrants both. These are people we're talking about when we talk about immigration. People like my father.

It is not a zero-sum game.

Photo credit.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Good Deeds

As it's Lent, I've been trying to teach my son about sacrifice and the three pillars of Lent: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. He has a "Good Deeds Cross" which he cut out of red construction paper. Every time he does a good deed, he gets to put a sticker on the Cross, beautifying it for Easter.

In the beginning, he was constantly saying things like, "I got my sister her water. Is that a good deed?...I got dressed when you asked me to. Was that a good deed?...I'm holding the door open for you, Mommy. Is that a good deed?" So I explained that a good deed is a little different from being nice or fulfilling your responsibilities. It requires a sacrifice. If you hold the door open for someone while you're on your way out or in, that's nice, but it's not a good deed. A good deed would be if Mommy had her hands full while you were on the couch or in the other room, and you saw that she needed help, got up and held the door for her. You have to do difficult things that you don't really want to do for the sake of others in order for it to be a good deed. If it's easy or if you're supposed to do it anyway, then it doesn't count for a sticker.

Isn't it funny how the Lord teaches us through our teaching our children? Two days after I came home from visiting my family, I was in the city and stopped for gas. While pumping, I noticed a homeless man begging on the side of the road. I was in raptures. I had $2 in my wallet and now that I have a budget for charity, I could follow my impulse and give it to him. So I walked over and said hello, asked his name and chatted with him a bit. He wanted a hug and we shared one; he patted my hair and thanked me for the money. I returned to my car just absolutely glowing with love and the warmth of human contact.

That's when it hit me: this is easy. Really, really easy. Giving a homeless man a hug and $2 cost me nothing and made me feel absolutely wonderful. I saw myself standing in front of God with my little construction paper Cross and asking "Is that a good deed?" I was reminded, sheepishly, of Isiah 64: "Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean men, all our good deeds are like polluted rags."

Being nice to a stranger for two minutes is not difficult. It's not a sacrifice. It doesn't make me draw upon God for strength or challenge me to humble myself. It is absolutely a good thing to do, but it is not, as I would term it, a "good deed." It's not worthy of a sticker on my Cross.

Scripture readings this week have been reiterating the same points to me: do not fear the truth, but act always in love. I have no problem acting in love to strangers. I'm overtly kind to waitresses and grocery checkers. I always wave to construction workers. I make eye contact and smile at people I pass on the street. I'm even patient and nice to telemarketers. That stuff is easy. But I struggle with how to act with love towards my family. I am very bad about loving people when they mock the principles I hold dearest. I find it hard to be nice to family members who treat others with disdain or cruelty. I frequently fail to keep my tone sweet when talking to my children, or hold my temper when they act contrarily or make constant demands.

I have been praying a Litany of Humility daily to remind myself that I must do things not for the way they make me feel, but for love of God and a sincere desire to please Him.

Oh Jesus, meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,

deliver me Jesus.

From the desire of being loved,

deliver me Jesus.

From the desire of being extolled,
deliver me Jesus.

From the desire of being honored,
deliver me Jesus.

From the desire of being praised,

deliver me Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred,

deliver me Jesus.

From the desire of being consulted,

deliver me Jesus.

From the desire of being approved,

deliver me Jesus.

From the fear of being humiliated,

deliver me Jesus.

From the fear of being despised,

deliver me Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes,

deliver me Jesus.

From the fear of being calumniated,

deliver me Jesus.

From the fear of being forgotten,

deliver me Jesus.

From the fear of being ridiculed,

deliver me Jesus.

From the fear of being wronged,

deliver me Jesus.

From the fear of being suspected,

deliver me Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I,

Jesus grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,

Jesus grant me the grace to desire it.

That in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,

Jesus grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be chosen and I set aside,

Jesus grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
Jesus grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be preferred to me in everything,

Jesus grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may become holier than I, provided that I become as holy as I should,

Jesus grant me the grace to desire it. AMEN

Just a note: my trip to visit family was probably the best one I've ever had. Most of that wasn't my doing. There really weren't any situations that taxed my patience or made me uncomfortable. Everyone was happy, nice, relaxed and considerate the whole time. But I felt different while I was there. I didn't feel pressure to DO anything or say the exact right thing that might fix all the problems. I just concentrated on being loving and quiet. That didn't mean I never said a thing; but I never had an agenda, if that makes sense. If it weren't for the plane trips next to a squealing, flailing, grabbing, whining, demanding, fussing, peeing, spilling, toy-flinging toddler, it would have been the perfect vacation!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Working towards humility

My Lenten observance this year is difficult to define and even more difficult to put into practice. I'm trying to give up attachment to my opinion. As with every sacrifice I make, it seems to underscore just how often I indulge myself.

At first I struggled with how to talk to people (family especially.) A conversation does not consist of one person sharing while the other makes noncommittal "listening noises." (Well, not real conversations anyway!) Nor can I simply phrase my opinion as a leading question, "Aren't you worried about the ethics of that course of action?" is just a fancy way of saying, "I don't think what you're doing is right." So I've been trying very hard to strike a balance that doesn't leave me nodding along or repeating whatever has just been said to me, but that lets the other person lead the conversation and elevates their thoughts above my own.

The exception to this comes in cases where matters of theology or virtue are at stake. I consider it my duty to voice my opinion to defend the Church, for instance, or provide a counter to the destructive viewpoints of the pro-choice, anti-God movements I encounter in my daily life. To be silent here, to fail to vigorously defend the position of Truth, is a missed opportunity to draw others into deeper reflection of the issues. But since it's not really my opinion (it is the Truth) I feel confident God does not want me to refrain from sharing.

I feel that God has been speaking to me lately, though, and saying something that I don't like to hear. "Your way is not My way." I feel a bit like Peter must have when he protested that Jesus could never fall into the hands of His enemies, and Christ rebukes him with "Get behind me, Satan!" I remember when my sister was in college and we were on the phone together, at one point in the conversation she interrupted me and said, "I don't need to you defend me to mom and dad. I can speak my own mind." As an older sister, I had been interfering and attempting to protect her from getting into trouble. But she was telling me that doing so was actually harming her, because instead of viewing her as a unique person with the ability to make her own choices and express herself, I was relegating her to the position of a small child that had no individual autonomy.

Lesson learned. I didn't defend her again, and she has proven herself to be quite a different person, one who has the courage of her own convictions and is proud of the way she lives her life.

There's something of the same feeling within me as I'm listening to God, and a strong confusion as to how I change. I am an interfering busybody. Period. I have always been this way. It stems from my desire to be helpful, but what it actually is is a form of narcissism. I can do it best, these people need me, I have to wade in and solve this problem. If only they would just listen to the wisdom I have to share, things would be so much better.

It's precisely this quality that annoys me in other people, and yet I am now very clearly seeing that I do it, too. (Isn't that what they say, that you dislike the qualities in other people that remind you of yourself?) It's the reason why I chose silence as my Lenten sacrifice, because the hardest thing in the world for me to do is NOT speak when I have something to say.

It's really coming home to me in a major way right now, because my parents' marriage is completely falling apart. Communication is nonexistent, people are talking about the D-word, lawyers are being consulted and finances are being split.

My brain is screaming at me to get my parents on the phone and tell them exactly what I think they need to do to save their marriage. I would say it lovingly, of course. My brain really and truly thinks this is a good idea, because they "needs to hear it."

My heart and my Lenten promise say otherwise. In speaking with friends about the issue, their wisdom is shining through: this is not my place, this is not my fight. My parents are autonomous adults who must come to their own decisions.

I am about to get on a plane and spend a week there with the kids. I cannot convey to you the fear and dread that is upon me at the thought. I am weak. Weak weak weak weak weak and undisciplined. I know I am entirely ill-equipped for this challenge God has placed before me. And that is the crux of humility. I must acknowledge that I cannot do this. Only God can do this within me.

I want to fulfill my Lenten promise. And even more, I want to grow in humility, recognizing that my thoughts do not need to be shared and that my role in life is not mediatrix extraordinaire. God does not need me to fix my parents marriage. If God is going to heal my parents marriage, He will do it without me. He will certainly have an easier time of it if I refrain from insulting my parents by forcing my opinion upon them.

It will not be easy for me to stay uninvolved. In fact, it may be impossible. My open, honest, European parents hide nothing from me. Nor have I ever been able to hide anything from their direct and deliberate questions.

I have been praying for them every day. I need to be praying for myself as well: praying that I will be humble and small, quiet and noninterfering, that I will allow God to do His own work. If anything, I think He wants me to love my parents, to show Christ's acceptance of the sinner rather than His judgment. I'm certainly not qualified to judge, anyway, with my own list of sins a mile long.

Please pray for me, and for my family.